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CHAPTER 2: Was It The Teasing?
"… probably need some more bandages for the Ares kids because, you know, they'll most likely try to get on their feet again before they're ready. I talked to Taylor and she said that her cabin's fine now – nothing worse than a couple of bumps and scrapes leftover, thank the Gods – so that's Dionysus' cabin all set, and from what I hear most of Hypnos' cabin were out of action for the majority of the battle anyway so I doubt they'll need any further healing…"
Will listened to little Fionn Campbell as she relayed the medical status of the campers by cabin one after another. Such was always the way after a big battle – or so Will had been led to believe, having only experienced a few of what could truly be termed 'big' for himself – and Fionn was making an efficient and very objective attempt at relaying all necessary information. Though what the pervasive case of dandruff that she was leading into had to do with anything – apparently the children of Demeter were experiencing an influx–was a little questionable.
Will only listened with half an ear, though, as his other attention was instead being drawn to Nico di Angelo where he spoke to Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase a little ways down the hill. He'd hastened from Will's side not moments before with a brief assurance that "by the River Styx" he'd be right back. In that time, Fionn had approached him and taken the opportunity to bombard him with a quick recap of the camp's medical needs as they had changed since the conclusion of the battle two days before. As if Will hadn't just come from the infirmary himself.
She was indeed very efficient. Almost too efficient for the speed at which she spoke. Notated reports were always the better option when it came to Fionn. Especially because it made it easier for Will to gloss over the less important details, like the fact that Joel Hopkins was making a habit of picking at his butterfly stitches and that was the reason his arm was now effectively wearing an pair of Elizabethan collars around his hands. Will often wondered if she had been zapped with a sharp dose of electricity for her speed and twitchiness, an impression only enhanced by the crazy spiking of her short, black pixie cut.
As Fionn made to initiate a long-winded spiel about how she'd allocated Bea Tanner to being the resident syringe-cleaner, Will held up his hand. "That's fantastic, Fionn. Thanks so much for the update."
Fionn stuttered to a halt. She blinked for a moment as though wondering what had caused her to stop speaking before flashing Will her usual cheery grin. "No problems. If you'd like me to –"
"Did you write down all the info on the charts?"
Nodding, Fionn jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "Yeah, but I left them back at our cabin because I didn't want to take it out in case it got lost and then we wouldn't know of the variation in status of all of our patients when next check-up came about and then we'd have to ask –"
"Sounds good," Will interrupted her. "Thanks a heap for that, Fionn. You're off duty unless you can think of anything else that needs doing."
"Oh," Fionn blinked in her wide-eyed expression that always appeared slightly startled and spasmodically alert before grinning once more. "No, I think that's all I've got."
"Great. Then you can just…" Will trailed off as, before he'd even finished speaking, Fionn turned on her heel and sprung off to the Gods only knew where. She was incredibly bouncy, even for a nine-year-old.
Shaking his head fondly for his departing half-sister, Will turned and glanced over his shoulder towards Nico once more. He hardly knew the other boy, not really, but for whatever reason felt an obligation of sorts to ensure he had adequate company. Will didn't like seeing people by themselves, didn't like to see others hurting, and always found the incessant sadness and almost aggressive distancing of the son of Hades to be… disputable.
Not that that was the only reason he was currently shadowing Nico. He'd never had a whole lot to do with him, despite the fact that, for some unknown reason, he fascinated Will. Just a little bit. Or maybe a bit more than a little bit. Even as a distant ghost of sorts, Will had noticed him over the years, slinking between shadows and always on the periphery of notice. Until one deliberately made an effort to notice him, that was. And Will had always found that which was mysterious, hidden and private, to be unwaveringly curious.
And there was the fact that he very much needed to be seen to. By a medical specialist, that was. Will was quite looking forward to enforcing bed rest upon the resident Ghost King for the next three days – and he would make sure it was three days, too – to ensure that Nico didn't keel over. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that maybe, just maybe, Will might have found teasing him more enjoyable than it probably should be. But Nico was just so fun to tease. What could he say?
Shaking his head as his periphery noticed Fionn disappear into a group of like-minded youngsters, he trained his attention fully back onto where Nico was talking with Percy and Annabeth. Or had been talking, for he was now making his way back up the hill towards Will's side, hands in pockets and head bowed. Although… was it Will's imagination or was there a slight smile on his face?
For some reason, disgruntlement muttered a string of cutting grumbles in the back of his mind. Nico was smiling? Now he was smiling? Why was that, and why after coming back from talking to Percy? Will had never seen Nico smile and had hoped to be the one to fix that malady. Will was the doctor; he was supposed to be the one to ix people. It was frustrating that Percy, who he had to admit was a more than affable guy, had been the one to do it.
"You're looking happy," he called to Nico as the son of Hades stepped into hearing distance. Will kept his tone light, as casual as he always maintained, and even adopted an easy grin of his own.
That smile widened as Nico snapped his gaze towards him and immediately scowled in an expression of petulance. That was an expression that Will was becoming accustomed to seeing on his face. It wasn't anywhere near as annoying as it might have been if it was worn on another person, and mostly because Will was just happy to see it replace the cool detachedness that had been the primary façade Will had seen Nico wear hitherto.
With a glance around himself, as though ensuring that no one had overheard Will's mortifying suggestion, Nico hunched his shoulders slightly and let his scowl slip into an all-out glare. Even that made Will smile, more genuinely this time. "Who's happy?"
"I'm not. You're just being an idiot for not realising it yourself."
Nico halted at his side, hooding his eyelids condescendingly. "If anyone's an idiot it's you. There's definitely something going on up top with you and I think you should get it checked out. Maybe take yourself to the infirmary for once."
"I'm perfectly healthy," Will replied with a widening of his smile. "Tip-top shape and all that."
"Right," Nico drawled slowly, and though he kept a good foot of distance between them, Will was gratified to see that he fell into step alongside him as they headed back in the direction of the Apollo cabin. It was a necessity, given that the infirmary was still filled and, as historically happened when overflowing with patients, the Apollo cabin offered its beds to the patients in need.
Even after two days it was still abuzz with activity. Cabin seven was one of the plainest of those ringing Hestia's hearth, but it was certainly the most noticeable since the battle. Every minute or so would see campers walking or running or stumbling through the doors, bandaged or carrying bandages, and most calling out a greeting to those inside or a farewell as they left the brightly lit interior.
Will had to pause as the Athena siblings, Gina and Dana Mendez, squeezed through the doorway of the cabin shoulder to shoulder and only just escaping the clutches of Kyle Hogin as he made a grab for them with a word that they "should probably just stay another day, just in case!" Their gleeful laughter of delight followed their departure and Kyle was left shaking his head and scrubbing a hand over his head. He gave Will a weary smile, rolled his eyes with the customary long-suffering cast that all children of Apollo practiced from a young age, before disappearing back indoors. The wooden door, appearing nothing if not that of a barn, bounced once before closing.
"I'm not going in there."
Will glanced to his side – no, behind him, because Nico had apparently retreated several steps – and immediately propped his hands upon his hips. "You promised."
"No, I didn't."
"Well, you didn't argue when I said you were coming."
"That's an entirely different thing."
Will sighed. Should I? Is it really the only option? Because really, he could see no other way to get Nico over the threshold. Darting a hand forward, too fast for Nico to manage more that a lurching attempt at avoiding the attack, Will grabbed his upped arm and hauled him through the door. Quite the opposite to what Nico perhaps hoped to elicit, Will only grinned at his cursing and spluttering as he drew him along in his wake.
The rows of beds, more than was usually bulking out their makeshift, secondary infirmary, were still almost entirely occupied with sleepers and wounded. Children of Apollo wove down the aisle in what could have been a practiced dance, easily bypassing their fellows and carrying slices of ambrosia and sippy-cups of nectar as often as bottled paper cups of medication, syringes in bottles and disinfectant wipes. Curtains were strung from the golden-white walls, half shielding each bed to afford minimalistic privacy, and gave the impression of nothing so much as a cloud-stuffed farmhouse. The impression was only intensified by wooden walls, polished floors, and the steeple roof criss-crossed by rafters.
Will nodded in greeting at his siblings as he passed them, listened with half an ear as Fionn – hadn't he told her to get some rest? Or at least to take some time off? – called out something so fast and garbled that he couldn't make it out. It was with increasing difficulty that he finally managed to draw Nico to one of the last beds along the parallel rows and it took a weighty shove to snap his knees from their locked position and force him into sitting on the mattress. Nico glared up at him for a moment, the next second darting a glance around the surrounds of the cabin's interior with a wary gaze as though he expected ghosts to spring from the walls. No, wait, he would probably welcome ghosts over his fellow campers, what with being the Ghost King and all that.
He flipped his gaze back to Will once more, scowl intensifying. Will beamed. And kept on beaming until the scowl finally eased somewhat into the picture of disgruntlement. Nico slumped slightly in his seat, turning his glare sidelong. "Alright. You win."
"Of course I do," Will nodded. He hadn't been aware they had truly been competing but – no, wait, yes he had. It had simply been just so obvious that he would win that it hadn't felt all that much like it. "Now, are you going to be compliant, or do I have to call for a hand to pin you down to the hospital bed?"
Nico shifted uneasily at the suggestion, then, still glancing warily around the room, made a show of slipping his shoes off. "No, no pinning, please."
"Wonderful," Will smiled. It really was so much fun to tease him. "Now, up on the bed properly if you please. Doctor's orders."
Nico paused in the act of slipping his second shoe off. He regarded Will with that hooded stare and faintly petulant scowl once more. "You do realise that I can literally take myself out of here any second I want, right?"
"But you won't," Will said, hand propping onto his hips once more. "Because I'm the head medic at camp and anyone who's sick has to follow my directions exactly. Ask Chiron, he'll tell you."
"I have a feeling I'm going to be hearing that a fair bit from now on," Nico mumbled.
"Your 'head medic' preach. Does it actually work for you?"
Will shrugged, attempting a modest smile that probably more accurately resembled a smirk. "Most of the time."
"How exactly did you get appointed the position, anyway?" Nico asked accusingly.
Will shrugged once more, disregarding the slight as just another amusement. Because really, it was kind of funny to see Nico trying to turn the tables. "It's a long story. Remind me to tell it to you some day."
"Looking forward to it," Nico grumbled in a way that suggested he was anything but.
Despite his continued mutters, the likes of which Will had to forcibly tune his ears away from for fear of snickering at the mentions of "stupidly entitled Apollo prats" and "like to see how he handles an army of overprotective zombie warriors", Nico did comply with Will's urging to fold himself more appropriately on the bed. It was almost cute to think that Nico considered himself intimidating. Even stranger to think that Will, somehow, from a distance, might have once thought him as such. Really, the notion was almost ridiculous each further moment that Will spent with him.
With the usual almost-sixth sense of a child of Apollo, Will scanned Nico for his status as he fidgeted into a more comfortable seat on the plumped pillows and struggled to untuck the military-tight blankets. As he did, Will found his smile fading to a frown. He had been right in suggesting that Nico spend some quality time in the infirmary.
The son of Hades looked like death. Literally, and Will was just a little too familiar with what that looked like after a few close encounters with zombies and the like over the past few days. His skin was so pale it was almost grey and there were dark shadows under his eyes, eyes that sat deep and hollow in his face. He looked worn and exhausted, and was most likely malnourished, an overall impression only intensified by his evident disgruntlement.
Throughout his assessment, Will barely acknowledged the focus of that disgruntlement. It was only when Kyle stepped up to the bed next to them and leant over the dozing figure of Yvonne Mahal – she woke with a snort that would have put an elephant to shame and nearly smacked Kyle in the face when she sat up – that the reason for Nico's discomfort became apparent. Will glanced over his shoulder, following the nervously sceptical gaze Nico trained upon Kyle's back. Was it just that Kyle was a medic and hence held the power to poke and prod him with stethoscopes and paddle pop sticks? Or was it just the fact that Nico was surrounded by so many people that he disliked?
Sighing, Will shook his head and made an exaggerated display of tugging one of the cloud-like curtains between the beds. "There's nothing wrong with being around other people, you know," he said, striving to keep the accusation out of his tone. He wasn't sure he managed so well. He didn't want to ask the obvious "why don't you like other people?" because Gods, he wasn't that insensitive, but he felt he had to say something. "Just because it's how everyone perceives you doesn't mean you have to actually be a loner."
"I'm not a loner," Nico muttered, settling himself back against the pillows of the bed and folding his arms. It was the same petulant expression he'd worn but minutes before. "I talk to people."
"Really? Who?" Will couldn't help but ask. For once he was genuinely curious rather than just driven by the incessant demand to tease the other boy.
"Like Jason, and Reyna, and Hazel and Annabeth." Nico paused for a moment, then blurted out as though slightly embarrassed. "And Percy."
Will pretended to be concentrating upon the little cup of vitamins that he'd pulled from his pocket, sorting through the multi-coloured pills. It was that or frown at Nico's words, and at the slight flush that he didn't quite hide at the mention of Percy's name. "How long's that been going on for, then?"
Nico's mouth opened and closed objectionably for a moment before he managed to reply. "It's none of your business, Solace."
Will shrugged, feeling the smile that seemed prone to arising every time he prodded Nico into response appear once more. "Just trying to keep you healthy, di Angelo. And social wellbeing is just as important as physical health."
"Oh, so you're a therapist now?"
"The best there is on camp, Death Boy," Will grinned, handing over the little cup of vitamins and a glass of water.
Nico snatched them from him with a glare. "Don't call me 'Death Boy'," he ordered, before tossing back the pills and the water in one gulp.
Will couldn't help but laugh, his good humour rapidly restoring. Teasing Nico, and even just being in the company of the other boy who was so vastly different to literally everyone else on camp, was sort of… relieving. After days of endless work in both infirmaries, it was nice to have a bit of a change of pace. He'd strap Nico to the bed if that was what it took to keep him there and actually get enough sleep to make him resemble something other than the zombie-guise that he currently wore.
Not that he wouldn't rather Nico just stayed because he was told to. And to do that, Will kept up a steady stream of chatter as he checked Nico's vitals, as he filled out his chart, as he simply sat on the end of the bed when the rest of his duties were done. And, though Nico still stared at every passing Apollo camper with thinly veiled dislike that held more than a little wariness, Will thought that he did settle. Once he was sure Nico almost smiled before he evidently realised he 'shouldn't'.
In reflection, Will wondered if maybe his teasing had been a little too much. Maybe, though Will had found it enjoyable, Nico truly had been as disgruntled and deterred as he had pretended to be. As Will had assumed he had 'pretended' to be. That while he had seemed to relax more and more as the afternoon went on it was only some and not quite enough. He'd seemed happier, more comfortable. Wasn't he?
Now, with Nico fleeing as though Will really had pushed him that bit too far, he wasn't so sure.